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Old 10-04-2018, 12:09   #1
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Echoes up the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock closure

A little over two years ago, the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock was permanently closed.

Completed in 1963, the lock extended the navigable portion of the upper Mississippi to North Minneapolis. The 49' drop was the largest on the river and one of the largest anywhere.

The closure was purportedly to stop the spread of Asian carp. But the commercial traffic that the lock was meant to support never really materialized, and was in decline. Most Mississippi river barge traffic uses larger barges that will not fit through the relatively small 56x400' lock chambers at St. Anthony Falls.

The closure is the first closure of a commercially significant lock on a navigable river in the modern era. Many smaller locks closed in the early to mid- 20th century. One that comes to mind is the lock at the Big Sandy Reservoir, built in 1859 prior to the arrival of rail service, and subsequently closed.

The lower St. Anthony Falls lock and dam remains open for now, as does lock and dam #1. There is no longer any significant commercial traffic at these facilities. The University of Minnesota power plant was converted from coal to natural gas some years ago, and was the only barge terminal between lock & dam #1 and the now-closed Upper St. Anthony Falls lock. It is probably only a matter of time before these locks are closed to navigation. The only questions are when, and whether they'll dynamite the dam while they're at it.

This summer, I'm planning to cruise on up to St. Anthony Falls, just to see Minneapolis from the river, while I still can.

Invasive species have been used as an excuse for all kinds of restrictions on boating around here. It's a losing battle since, at most, all it buys is time. It is no longer permitted to operate a boat upstream past a certain checkpoint on the St. Croix river. You can launch upstream and go the other way, but then can't go back. There are mandatory inspections at various boat launches, with limited hours. Conveniently, these restrictions serve the interests of waterfront landowners who would like to reserve the waters for their own use, as well as politically well-connected river users who want to see restrictions on power boats.

The loss of commercial traffic has affected many others. The Chicago bridges no longer open for us. There are rivers and harbors no longer dredged. Lock and bridge service hours cut back. That 17' bridge.

Don't take your navigation for granted.
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